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What comes to mind when you think of animals in Lapland? Reindeer? Huskies? Polar bears (and no, they don’t actually live there)?
One animal I certainly wouldn’t have thought of before I went to Finnish Lapland was the horse. Like the cows that didn’t last very long in Honningsvåg, I thought horses wouldn’t survive in such a tough land, one that wouldn’t provide them with much food in the winter or temperatures that they would be comfortable in.
It turns out that I was very wrong. Finland is actually home to its own breed of horse, the Finnhorse, that is confusingly called a “cold-blooded horse.” No, they haven’t found a way to make a horse that’s not a warm-blooded mammal; in this case “cold-blooded” means that the horses are “muscular, heavy-set horses that are bred to be calm, steady, and patient.”
When I visited Kamisak Farm before my horseback ride, I learned that quite a few companies offer horseback rides over the fells in the summer, but very few offer trips during the winter. I also learned a few other interesting facts while I walked around the husky kennels:
- It is possible to have a cat on a farm with 120 dogs, and he will still think he is the boss,
- Huskies can fit through very, very tiny holes in fences so they can chase after you for a pat,
- It was -42C up on the fells at the cabin where the overnight trippers were staying,
- And of course, two-month-old puppies are adorable.
Anyway, the lack of winter trips isn’t because the horses aren’t suited to the weather — I think there would be none better than the thick-coated, Clydesdale-height horses that we rode — but more because of a perceived lack of interest.
I love that Sanna & Mika from Kamisak have bucked this trend. While husky trips — especially overnight trips into the fells — are their main business, they own two stables of Finnhorses that do trips year-round. The one that usually runs winter trips is part of Santa’s Resort at Kakslauttanen, which makes the trip even more convenient to people that are staying in the nearby glass igloos.
Even though our trip was limited by the terrain — even the tall Finnhorses couldn’t easily make it through the meter of snow built up next to the cleared paths — it was an interesting way to explore the landscape. Leaving the stables in a line behind Sanna, we slowly bobbed our way down the path towards Santa’s Resort. Soon we were passing the glass igloos, four rows of little glass domes just waiting for darkness to fall and the northern lights to come out.
I found the most difficult thing to do was to hold on to the reins with my thick mitts on. After nearly freezing my hands off on a RIB boat in Lofoten, I was loath to ever leave thick gloves behind, but the fact that they were mitts meant I felt like the reins were always about to fall out of my hands.
I don’t know that it would have mattered if I had dropped them. My horse was very well-behaved; aside from the occasional backwards glance that I got when I held the reins too tightly, she was happy to do whatever I asked her to do. She was much better than the horse behind me, who constantly stopped and stubbornly refused to move, possibly because he didn’t like being behind my horse. Our pace became very stop-start as his rider did everything she could to coax him into moving again, often to no avail.
Eventually, Sanna had to switch her horse for the grumpy one and we got moving again. We never got faster than a slow walk, but that was okay with me. I’m not a particularly experienced horseback rider, and while I have been on much faster horses in Colorado and New Zealand, neither of those places featured slick paths covered in hard-packed snow. It was a much more pleasant experience being able to admire the landscape instead of worrying about falling off.
The landscape was a picturesque mix of rolling fields and woodlands. The fells of northern Finland are not as spectacular as the fjords of Norway, but I thought they were just as beautiful. They were peaceful and seemingly always lit with golden light even in the middle of the day. The fields of snow literally sparkled in the sunlight; it would have been blinding had I not had sunglasses.
So was horseback riding in winter an exhilarating adventure where we galloped across the open plains? No. My horse was just as calm and steady as her breed is supposed to be. So while I wouldn’t recommend this trip to experienced horseback riders looking for a challenge, it was a great introduction for beginners (or re-introduction for somewhat-beginners like me) and it was a unique way to see the gorgeous winter scenery of the Saariselkä area.
Would you try horseback riding in the winter?
I visited Kamisak Farm as a guest of Northern Lapland Tourism and Visit Finland, but all opinions stated here are my own. Kamisak Farm runs husky trips (from a few hours to 5 days) from November to April and runs horseback riding tours (from 2 hours, which was the tour I did, to 2 days) year round. Their main farm is located south of Ivalo on the road to Rovaniemi; the other is in Santa’s Resort at Kakslauttanen.
 From HorseBreedsList.com.